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Are You Too Plugged-in? Disconnect from Tech Temptations

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Technology has been pivotal to the success of most small business owners. Many wouldn’t be where they are today if not for advances such as the Internet, mobile devices, and the ability to conduct commerce. While grateful for these opportunities, many successful professionals — and their families — have come to resent technology.

Can’t enjoy a quiet dinner without tensing up at the distant sound of a text alert? Tired of having vacation days fall apart because you couldn’t resist that quick check-in? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Here are four ways microbusiness owners become too plugged-in, and some help in overcoming your technological temptations.

You Can’t Enjoy Social Events

For many professionals, the ability to keep tabs on work from virtually anywhere has come at the cost of social engagements.

“It’s my fault, I can’t get through an evening out without checking messages or email. I’ve tried leaving my phone in the car, but then I just get jittery,” says Janet Horton, an independent financial consultant. “I usually sneak out to get it, under the guise of going to the ladies room.”

A study conducted at Stanford University, by Anthropology Professor Tanya Luhrmann, reported that many iPhone users receive complains from family and friends that they spend too much time on their device. Seven percent of respondents reported their roommate or partner actually felt abandoned due to their iPhone usage.

If your family and friends know that you’re no good for a relaxed evening out, it’s time to learn to unplug for a few hours. Try leaving your phone in your car or even at home. Lay the groundwork by notifying anyone you’re currently working closely with: “I’ll be unavailable from seven to nine tonight. I’ll answer you after that.”

If you can’t trust your willpower, there are numerous apps available that will babysit your phone for you. One is the BRB app, which will respond to your incoming messages with your customized response, telling them you will “be right back”.

“People have really enjoyed broadcasting creative ‘away’ messages to their friends when they're busy. BRB makes being away from your phone a fun part of everyday life, where you can enjoy what you're doing without leaving your friends in the dark,” says David Krevitt, CEO of BRB.

Your Phone Distracts You While Driving

The National Safety Council reports that about 80% of all collisions result from driver inattention, a figure largely stemming from the use of hand held devices. It may seem that a glance at your phone screen is quick, but according to the US Government's website on Distracted Driving, sending a text message while driving 55 MPH is equivalent to driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded.

When striving for success, it can be hard to be disconnected while driving. Robert Jay, owner of a small PR company, used to worry about the impact of frequent hours on the road.

“I used to think it was too much time to be disconnected,” Jay says, admitting to the more than the occasional interaction with his phone while driving.

But when a tragic car accident occurred in his small town, Jay took notice. “Two families were devastated, all because of a texting driver. Nothing, no job, is that important,” he admits.

Vowing to keep his hands off the phone didn’t have lasting success, so Jay started putting his phone on ‘do not disturb’ and zipping it in his bag.

“It definitely took some getting used to,” he admits. “Now, I like the break. And if I’m in the car too long, I’ll pull over, grab a coffee, and check in while I’m parked.”

If you find it hard to unplug at the wheel, consider putting the phone in your glove box, bag, or in the trunk. Be sure to silence it first, as audible alerts can be hard to ignore.

Hands-free is another possible solution. Listening to your texts and responding verbally eliminates the need to use your hands and eyes. iPhone users with Siri, the phone’s voice assistant, can listen to messages and respond verbally. Motorola’s My MotospeakApp, which, when used with the Motorola Roadster 2, also enables you to listen to texts and respond verbally. Numerous other options exist as well.

There are also many apps, software and hardware devices that will completely block your ability to text while driving. Txtblocker and textecution are two common apps that disable a phone’s ability to text while driving. Dock-n-Lock requires the phone to be secured in a dock, out of reach, before your engine will turn on.

Your Day is Swallowed by Distractions

Forums and social media can be valuable to a microbusiness owner. They can provide a sense of community, help you stay current, and keep you informed about your competition. And even occasional unrelated web surfing can be a good way to take a break and recharge.

But if you’re like many people, that handful of quick visits during the day adds up, or triggers a chain reaction where suddenly, large chunks of time have slipped away.

Jason Donal, a graphic designer, hadn’t realized how much time he lost each day until a particularly busy stretch came along. In a crunch for time, he focused completely on work, seldom checking unrelated sites. After his deadlines passed, he realized how much more time he gained in his day.

“That experience motivated me to minimize extraneous visits. I’ll still poke around, but much less often, mainly at lunch or late in the day,” he says.

Look into StayFocused for Google Chrome, LeechBlock for Firefox, or Mindful Browsing for Safari.

StayFocused will allow you to monitor the total time spent on such sites, while LeechBlock and Mindful Browsing allow you to ban access to selected sites.

“I developed Mindful Browsing because I found myself habitually visiting time-wasting news sites while I was trying to work, and it would always be too late when I realized it,” shares Robin Barooah of Mindful Browsing. “It gives you the space to think about what you're doing, even after you have developed a bad habit.”

Don’t think you lose much time on non-work-related sites? Find out by trying RescueTime, an analytical tool that when loaded, runs automatically and analyzes screen time.

“RescueTime [gives users] a new awareness of how they spend their time,” says Robby Macdonell, from product development at RescueTime. “Each week, people receive a personal summary report, giving users interesting feedback loop ... to decide if they want to make changes.”

You Never Take a Vacation

Traditional workers often envy the entrepreneur’s lifestyle; they envision lazy mornings, spontaneous days off, and vacations on a moment’s notice. But in reality, time off is rare, and follows a carefully orchestrated juggling act.

But vacations are important for any worker. It’s a way to replenish energy and creativity, discover new solutions, and put things in perspective.

So how do you cut the ties and enjoy some time off? Consider a technology detox vacation. Where resorts used to promote their free Wi-Fi and connectivity, now many are toting just the opposite: they’ll take your phone/devices at check in and return them at check out, leaving you blissfully unconnected. Last year, Marriot and Renaissance resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico introduced “braincation” tech-free zones. Other destinations enforcing a techno-break include technology-free vacations offered by Digital Detox.

If you can’t find a hotel that offers a detox, impose your own. Lock your phone in your room safe upon arrival. Remain consistent; once you start checking in or making yourself available, it’ll be difficult to stop.

If a shortage of time or finances prevents actual travel, try a ‘detox staycation’ at home. Unplug and explore some of those places you drive by, but never get a chance to visit.

Detaching from your devices at home is easier said than done. One way is to carefully pack away keyboards, plugs, and actual devices into a closet and forget about them. Not possible? Stow them at the home of a trusted friend, with specific instructions for their release. Or, purchase a lock box for the purpose and give the key to that trusted friend.

Try it for a day or weekend. When you realize that your company remains standing, perhaps you’ll make it a recurring event.

If you need further inspiration or assistance, check out the Sabbath Manifesto, a creative movement dedicated to helping plugged-in people embrace downtime. Offering tips and novelty products to help you put down your devices, the group features a National Day of Unplugging, which runs March 7-8, 2014.

Proactively Unplug to Reduce Burnout and Increase Productivity

At first, breaking away from the habits you’ve been accustomed to may seem impossible, but focusing on the gains can help. With some routine down time, you’ll be happier, more social, and safer. That, in turn, can increase productivity and reduce the risk of burnout.

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